This may come as a surprise to some of you who call yourselves atheists but we all pray; yes, even atheists. Prayer simply means to ask and everyone at some point in their life has asked for the help of another. We usually think of prayer of invoking a request from a higher spirit, the Creator, the Great Spirit, Allah, or God. Some pray with chanting; others make their supplications with dancing. Many say collective prayers and some religions pray several times a day. Often prayer is done internally, a type of “think talk”. Regardless of what form or fashion it takes, we all have asked for help.
Walter Mueller describes prayer this way: “prayer is not merely an occasional impulse to which we respond when we are in trouble; prayer is a life attitude.” That can seem a bit daunting to many and so, one man set out to make prayer something people understood. His life became dedicated to connecting people with the prayers of their souls and hearts, with the very core of our most basic needs and humanity. That man is the Reverend Billy Graham.
I had not planned to talk in this series about someone so decidedly known or attached to one particular faith but, if you will read on, I think you’ll agree that although it was ordained an a Southern Baptist minister, Billy Graham has become a servant of his faith to connect with all people.
William Graham was born in North Carolina and earned a certificate in Biblical studies from a Bible college in Florida before graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in anthropology at the Methodist Wheaton College in Illinois. He married the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries and for the past thirty years has been an advisor to presidents and world leaders. For forty-nine consecutive years he was on Gallup’s List of Most Admired Men and Women, something no one has ever achieved.
In 1950, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was formed. Its mission has been unchanging: “Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) exists to support and extend the evangelistic calling and ministries of Billy Graham and Franklin Graham by proclaiming the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to all we can by every effective means available to us and by equipping others to do the same. Billy Graham founded BGEA in 1950; BGEA was headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, until relocating to Charlotte, North Carolina in 2003. He conducts his ministry through the BGEA, including: the weekly Hour of Decision radio program broadcast around the world on Sundays for over 50 years; television specials which are broadcast in prime time on an average of 150 stations; a syndicated newspaper column called “My Answer”; Decision magazine, the official publication of the Association; and World Wide Pictures, which has produced and distributed over 125 productions.”
That mission statement may sound very preachy but humanitarian aid is also given to nations in crisis. He has also advocated for basic human rights for all people. After racially-motivated bombings in Birmingham, Alabama, Rev. Graham held memorial services. He refused to go to South Africa until the government permitted integrated audience to hear him preach. After the devastating Hurricane Katrina, he held a Festival of Hope in New Orleans and was asked to lead the national memoriam at the National Cathedral, an Episcopal cathedral in Washington, D.C., after the attacks on September 11, 2001 in New York City and Washington, D.C. as well as the plane crash in Pennsylvania due to the work of terrorists.
“True prayer is a way of life, not just for use in cases of emergency.” Billy Graham’s words ring very true for me. Herman Melville, author of the classic “Moby Dick” once said that “Prayer draws us near to our own souls.” I would venture that he who claims not to have ever prayed is in doubt of who they are.
Prayer is not a sign of weakness but of being alive. Chiang Kai-shek explained: “Prayer is more than meditation. In meditation the source of strength is one’s self. When one prays, he goes to a source of strength greater than his own.” William Inge agreed: “Prayer gives a man [woman] the opportunity to know [someone] he hardly ever meets. I do not mean his maker but himself.”
I hope you accept that you have prayed and if you are in need, please feel free to comment a prayer request to me. My own feeling is that when we pray, we become humanitarians for the world, especially for those for whom we offer prayer. Mahatma Gandhi truly understood the purpose of prayer and its potential. “Prayer is not an old woman’s idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action.”